100% Of Women Attracted To Other Women, Study Says

Good morning! Have you felt attracted to a woman yet today? If you ARE a woman, the answer is probably “yes,” according to a new study from The University of Essex. Researchers showed erotic videos of women and men to 345 women, and studied their responses to the clips, such as “whether their pupils dilated when shown sexual stimuli.” They determined that although lesbians were only aroused by other women, straight women were aroused by both men and women. The study was conducted by Dr. Gerulf Rieger from the Department of Psychology, who claims that “lesbians were the most like men in their responses because it is usually men who show distinct sexual responses to their favourite sex.” Before we get any further into this information, I want you to know that Dr. Gerulf Rieger and his mentor have a rocky history with our community.

The good people at award-winning bastion of journalistic integrity, The Daily Mail, have interpreted Rieger’s data in a really special way:

Screenshot 2015-11-05 10.38.15

This isn’t an especially surprising headline considering that Rieger was a protege of noted transphobe J.Michael Bailey, who, according to Trans Road Map, “has made a career of splashy “findings” which are heralded uncritically by sloppy reporters and then later called into question and/or discredited after the damage is done. By then Bailey is on to some new “finding,” and the pattern of using journalists begins again.”

Dr. Rieger, who has long been fascinated with butch/femme roles in homosexual relationships, also determined the following:

… his study showed that lesbians who may dress in a more masculine way may not have more masculine behaviours.

‘Although some lesbians were more masculine in their sexual arousal, and others were more masculine in their behaviours, there was no indication that these were the same women,’ he said.

‘This shows us that how women appear in public does not mean that we know anything about their sexual role preferences.’

Thanks, Gerulf! (Can I call you Gerulf? Thanks!). That’s right ladies: as logic would suggest, your public appearance is not inexorably linked to what you like in bed.

If you’re a social scientist or even a human being, you’re probably already side-eyeing the leap this conversation makes from “arousal” to “orientation,” because um, the kind of porn you get turned on by and the people you want to sleep with — let alone the people you want to date and build a life with — are not necessarily the same. The Daily Mail isn’t alone in using this research to claim that orientation and arousal are inexorably linked, The University of Essex’s own website opened their press release on this study with, “When it comes to what turns them on, women are either bisexual or gay, but never straight.” Now, here’s the kicker: some of the most publicized previous research claiming an absolute link between arousal and orientation was conducted by  — YOU GUESSED IT —  Gerulf Rieger!

In 2005, while at Northwestern University, Rieger conducted a similar study, reaching the conclusion that bisexual men do not exist. How did they figure this out? He measured genital arousal patterns of a whopping 33 bisexual men while exposing them to erotic imagery of both women and men. They determined that bisexual-identified men were either aroused by men OR women, but not both. This inspired the wonderful New York Times headline “Straight, Gay, or Lying?” and further alienated one of the most misunderstood (but entirely real) groups within the LGBTQ umbrella — bisexual men.

In 2011, Northwestern recanted with a more well-rounded study that found bisexual men do indeed exist, and that “physical arousal is only one component of sexual orientation.”

Yes, sexual arousal is complex, and doesn’t necessarily determine orientation. Surveys of porn-watching habits back this up. Dazed Digital found that “the average straight-identifying woman is far more likely to watch girl-on-girl than the average straight guy is to watch boy-on-boy.”  They found “straight women’s consumption of lesbian porn outstrips men’s: only gay or bisexual women watch more girl-on-girl.” Cosmo found similar numbersA study on the porn-viewing habits of lesbians by Irish and Canadian researchers found most of the women “didn’t care for girl-on-girl porn, saying they found the films unrealistic and clearly made by and for straight men.”

We did our own unscientific study here, too, with the Ultimate Lesbian Sex Survey, which was filled out by over 8,500 queer female-identified human beings. We asked about porn-viewing habits, and found that 45% of survey-takers watch straight pornography and 33% watch gay male porn. Bisexual-identified women were the most likely to watch straight porn —54% of them do — but 41% of lesbians and 32% of queers do, too. 32% of lesbian-identified women watch gay male porn, the same number we found for bisexuals. So while it could very well be true that all women are turned on by erotic imagery featuring other women, you can’t make conclusions about sexual orientation from that fact alone.

However, it does seem to be true — anecdotally and otherwise — that sexuality is more fluid for women than for men, although some recent discourse has suggested even the commonly accepted truth that men are more sexually rigid than women might not be as “natural” as we’d thought and is more a product of our culture than our biology.

Regardless, the science on women being more likely to be into other women is abundant. A 2011 study from Boise University said 60% of heterosexual women are attracted to other women — although a closer look at the data reveals a much more complicated (but still relevant to this point) picture, and you can read my dissection of that data here. A 2014 study from the University of Montreal found that “even though many people may identify as straight, that doesn’t stop them from thinking about the same gender.” 36.9% of the 718 women they surveyed had fantasized about doing the horizontal mambo with another lady.

This is backed up by our Lesbian Sex Survey — over 50% of respondents reported having had sex with at least one straight-identified woman, so there is no shortage of straight women out there who want to have sex with other women. There’s also the fact that women are highly sexualized in our society, and we’re practically conditioned all our lives to be aroused by erotic imagery of women.

Still, there’s huge gaps between desire, action, orientation and that final leap — romance. What The Daily Mail and Dr. Gerulf Rieger gets wrong is that it equates sexual orientation with sexual response, which is pretty absurd. As over half of us know, getting a woman into bed is one thing, but getting her into a relationship is quite another! Even asexual people, who often have no sexual desire towards other people at all, often still have very specific orientations w/r/t gender when it comes to pursuing romantic relationships.

In conclusion, don’t believe everything Dr. Gerulf Rieger tells you. However, I think it’s safe to conclude, from my own observations of human life on this planet, that women are super-hot, and we can’t help it if everybody has a big fat lesbian crush on us.


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City and mellowed out in California before returning to Michigan for reasons that are unclear to her now — she is currently plotting her return to the West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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80 Comments

  1. 0

    There’s a term for what’s happening! It’s ‘genital nonconcordance,’ which the beyond-wonderful Dr Emily Nagoski writes about a lot on her blog The Dirty Normal and her *amazing* book Come As You Are. Genital nonconcordance means that there’s a disparity between physiological genital arousal and psychological arousal. While in men, there’s about an 85% overlap between genital arousal and psychological arousal (that’s still a pretty big gap), there’s so much less connection between what a woman’s genitals are doing and whether she is feeling ‘aroused.’ The way Nagoski describes it is that women’s genitals respond physiologically to *any* sexual stimuli, whether or not she has any actual interest in it whatsoever. The genitals are just saying “That’s sexually relevant…that’s sexually relevant…that’s also sexually relevant,” even if she’s bored or repulsed by what she sees. She’s got a good blog post about it here: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/blog/2010/03/11/taint-what-you-do-its-the-way-that-you-do-it/ …and I really can’t recommend “Come As You Are” highly enough; and Erika Moen agrees: http://www.ohjoysextoy.com/come-as-you-are-2/

  2. 0

    I feel like this study doesn’t even necessarily prove arousal. Pupils dilate for lots of reasons. In any case, Rieger and Bailey both seem to be in the business of telling people that their identities don’t really exist and they need another one. So far, according to them, straight cis women are lying, gay cis men are lying, and trans women are either flamboyant gay men or delusional and self-fetishizing. It makes me want to release a study saying cis men don’t exist.

  3. 0

    :/ Those sensational sex study headlines are so tired. Physical response (“arousal”) =/= attraction. Especially considering the physical responses measured are reactions intended to prevent harm and infection in our genitals.

    Women also have a measurable physical response to watching apes have sex. That doesn’t mean we’re all zoophiles.

    • 0

      “Physical response (“arousal”) =/= attraction.”

      This this THIS. I’ve gotten turned on by watching animals mate, and even by looking at innocuous things like flowers. It doesn’t mean I want to fuck animals or flowers.

  4. 0

    I also wonder how much of this has to do with women being sexualized in general in our society. We’re trained to view women’s bodies as inherently sexual.

    Also, can’t you be turned on by sympathizing with the person you’re viewing? Seeing yourself in their place, not seeing yourself with them?

    There are so very many problems with this study.

    • 0

      I think porn empathy might be a logical explanation. That is one of the reasons for pov (point of view) porn. Also, porn is frequently based on the average to ugly (sorry) guy having sex with average to hot women. It is wish fulfillment for the male gaze. If there were more (ethical, non-trafficking, well paid, etc) porn for the heterosexual, bi, lesbian, queer women, these type of studies involving porn might have different results. I personally think of my self as pro-porn but anti porn industry.

  5. 0

    I remember one of the chapters of Bonk (by Mary Roach) discussed how for females, bodily signs of arousal were independent from their emotional/mental arousal, whereas men has a stronger connection between the two. Women would consistently have physical indicators of arousal, but it wouldn’t register. They didn’t feel aroused at all. Also, women’s bodies would produce physical indicators of arousal to pretty much any image. She concluded that given the apparent schism between mind and body, the bodily signs should not be trusted.
    I don’t recall if she was referring to a Rieger study or not.

  6. 0

    I don’t think it’s fair to assume that Gerulf is a bad person based on the Chair of his old department – which was over ten years ago. The site you linked to is making a baseless claim that he is being “groomed” by him, but what does that even mean? Besides, if you look into it – Bailey resigned. Gerulf is gay (so I’m sure he never agreed with Bailey about his f’ed up views to begin with) and he’s seriously one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I participated in one of Gerulf’s studies a few years ago when he was doing postdoc work at Cornell. He’s a super nice guy who is married to one of my old coworkers – another super nice guy. So, please, be careful with throwing around “this guy is so awful!!!” without knowing much about them.

  7. 0

    NPR had hosted some writers i think a year ago who looked into female sexuality and i caught the tail end of it and i can’t for the life of me remember what the book was called, does anybody have a clue? The writers were asked what this book taught them and they mentioned how blown away women’s sexuality is misunderstood. because it was npr, i was willing to take them a little more seriously

  8. 0

    Seconds before reading this, I took a short break from working on what I hope will be an astute, well-reasoned and well-cited research project on media representations of gender nonconformity. I shoved aside stacks of peer-reviewed articles thinking, “Hey, I’ll scroll through AS and maybe shop online for a new hoodie.” And bam, this douchecanoe’s dubious “findings” are everywhere. It’s really frustrating to be elbows-deep in attempts to produce academic writing thoughtfully and responsibly and then see this half-baked shit get so easily published, and then sensationalized, and spread through social media like wildfire.

    I should just go back to the hoodie-shopping. Grumble grumble grumble.

  9. 0

    Isn’t this the same guy that made claims that bisexual men don’t exist?

    Uh.. Yea, he’s extremely uneducated and frankly he is causing more problems by spewing his stupidity.

    He shares nothing of value.

  10. 0

    I skimmed the actual paper to see if it was as bad as that article/press release. I’m still not exactly a fan, but it never actually suggested that showing arousal in response to men and women makes someone bisexual. This arousal pattern wasn’t even the hypothesis of the study–it just stated that the pattern had previously been established as female-typical (which was seen again in their results).

    The actual hypothesis was the connection between arousal patterns and masculinity–which was not supported AT ALL by the results.

    But I guess “STRAIGHT WOMEN DON’T EXIST” makes for a flashier headline than “Researchers fail to relate gender expression and arousal.”

    • 0

      Agreed. I thought it might have just been the Daily Mail but the university actually put out the same headline in the first paragraph of their press release. Somehow “my hypothesis was wrong” and “women’s sexual arousal continues to be a mystery” turned into “there are no straight women”. From a university, that’s just sad.

      I felt better about him until the end. All this is based on his own research (from earlier this year) that sexual arousal and pupil dilation is 100% linked. Kind of jumped on his own band wagon a bit too soon…

  11. 0

    This is ridiculous. I can’t even believe a study “proves” this, I’m sure they got all wrong. I am a woman, and an hetero one, at 100%. I never felt some kind of attraction to any women before and I’ll never feel it incha’allah

  12. 0

    Bailey taught my Stats class in undergrad and he was a dick. He used to teach a class called the History of Sexuality (where he lectured that bisexual men don’t exist while my male bisexual friend was in the class, might I add). They banned him from teaching that class because of an incident with a fucksaw during a demo on female ejaculation. So….

  13. 0

    I am so sick of all this fake pop-science.
    This is complete and under bullshit (and also not a new study). First of all, pupil dilation is a sympathetic response that is in no way specific to sexual attraction. Someone scares the shit out of you and your pupils will dilate because fear response is also a sympathetic response. Secondly, there have been other hypothesis explaining this phenomenon- such as evolutionary protective measure to minimize vaginal injury that happens when human females and related species are raped, which happens in many species. The idea is that females have to have a way of activating their sexual system without attraction. I think that in a neuroendocine class in college we read a paper saying that even non-human sex can cause a response in women.
    Even if that’s not the answer, the idea that pupil dilation can tell you for sure what someone’s sexual orientation is complete bullshit. A flashy headline so that someone’s research looks exciting.

  14. 0

    Wow, I agree that this research was bad or at least interpreted very poorly (probably by researchers) as well as most of press. And yes it sucks that that happens, but there are also researchers doing right by us who we should highlight. See the Mic article that talks about Dr. Chivers’ work as well, or the conversation Dr. Chivers and Dr. van Anders are having on twitter. I love autostraddle but I’m disappointed that yall would cover this in this way. I mean obviously it’s crap this idea (though we might love it) and obviously physiological arousal=/= attraction, so let’s highlight good researchers actually investigating queer women’s lives in real, progressive, feminist, and scienctific ways.

  15. 0

    the study doesn’t say 100% of women aren’t straight it says rarely.
    Of the women that identify as straight a lot are bi and some gay.
    If just the hetero women were the ones that considered themselves straight it would show clear results.A lot of women consider themelves sttraight becuase they only or mostly have sex with men.But this is influenced by women having on average a slight prefernce for men and other women that are more attracted to women often follow what they see around them and men being hunters and most of them straight.

    The results are all the same if you ask women if they have to choose to have sex with 2 women or 2 men 71,5% chooses 2 men with 28,5 % not being inrested in women sexually at all.
    if you ask women about kissing girls same percentages

    I think it is this for women: 28,575% straight
    8,2% gay
    65,3% bisexual

    and avg having 0,5 SD prefernce for men

    men are 91,8% straight 8,2 % gay.

    becvause most women consider what they do as their orientation ( it is a bit realted but not that much)and not their instinct you get this kind of results in studys like this

    I also remember a professor saying that mice were more gay because 8,2% were and 5,2 % of humans ( consider themslves it, in hololand btw)but he didn’t take in account that mice follow just their instincts and don’t have to come out of the closet etc.

  16. 0

    This study seems silly, and seems to make the same mistakes as his study on bisexual men. Also, both the article and study seem to erase people’s identities, even if they are straight people.

  17. 0

    Just wanted to point out that if person desires same-sex relationship said person can’t be heterosexual, despite her self-identification. That simply means that she at least bisexual, even if she “almost straight” by Kinsey’s scale. “Almost” does not count.) So in that example “over 50% of respondents reported having had sex with at least one straight-identified woman, so there is no shortage of straight women out there who want to have sex with other women” these women were not straight actually, but be, who were in closet even from themselves.

  18. 0

    I once participated in an arousal study with a probe that went inside my vagina, and they’d show clips of solo porn, cis men and cis women, interspersed with control clips of birds on grassy plains, and then sometimes if they needed me to wind down more they’d show me nothing and tell me to think about oatmeal. I was so responsive they took longer and longer pauses with me, and asked me more and more details about oatmeal. I think now I just find grasslands and oatmeal arousing.

    That’s how accurate a measure of sexuality this is.

  19. 0

    i identify as cis female. when i watch porn and get excited it’s because i place myself in the position of the female i’m watching. i find this stimulates my imagination and connects the pleasure back to me. it’s not because i am attracted to women. because i’m not.
    i’m woman enough for me. : )

  20. 0

    All women are Lesbian by nature. They pretend to love men for just money. Have you ever noticed any woman taking sexual interest in a jobless or poor man? Female nudity turns on women because women are more beautiful an voluptuous than me in terms of body or figure. Lesbian porn is populer in women. Watch twitter and Facebook. Male photo doesn’t get likes or comments. Whereas nude photos of women get get likes, comments and retweets by women. Watch the popularity of song “girls like girls like boys do”.

    • 0

      I’m not a lesbian, but I definitely would never find myself attracted to you, considering your low opinion of women in general! \o/ I’m sorry your personality is so off-putting that even women who are legitimately into men don’t like you. Maybe you could work on that!

      • 0

        The fact is fact. Nobody can deny that. A video shopkeeper told me that all the women who come to his shop, take Lesbian video CDs. A bookstall guy told me that every girl purchases Lesbian novels from him. Now can these guys pressurize their female customer to buy heterosexual stuff from them? It is clearly observed by everybody that Girls put the nude pics of actresses and female models in purse. All girls store lesbian videos and lesbian pics in their tablets/phone. So nobody can deny the reality that 90% women Like Lesbian sex. Female nudity turns on women in same manner just like it attracts male. Because women are more beautiful than men in terms of body. The famous blockbuster song ” girls like girls like boys do” broke all the records in YouTube in terms of likes, comments and views. I hope you would accept reality. Thanks

    • 0

      Before you know it us Straight men will become Obsolete. But then again there are so many very Pathetic Low Life Loser women now more than ever Unfortunately since we have No Reason to Blame ourselves.

        • 0

          Men are already obsolete . Mobile & internet brought great changes in the lifestyles of people across the world. “Man & woman sex” is old and out of dated. Women are on-lookout for new trends. There is so much curiosity in women regarding Lesbian sex. Since Lesbian sex is free from diseases, pregnancy or another risks, it is getting popular even in Eastern societies.

  21. 0

    It is fact that the Lesbian Population has increased over these years since even on TV they’re Promoting it more than ever before. And even the women that are suppose to be Straight are Bi anyway since more and more of them are Experimenting with other women which is quite common now. Not that many completely Straight Single women out there anymore these days Unfortunately which is why there are so many of us Straight Single Guys out there now more than ever that should’ve been all settled down by now with our own Good Straight Wife and family.

  22. 0

    I’m a woman and i hate lesbian porn and what i hate most is lesbians in hetero porn videos because it kills all passion. Why so many guys like lesbians?? I can’t understand it ? It’s so boring. I would rather prefer gay porn 😀

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